Compared to Mozart, Lukas Foss was an old man when he began composing music: Mozart was five and Foss was seven. But comparisons are unfair. Prodigies are rare, and Lukas Foss was certainly one of them.
Today is Foss' 75th birthday. The composer, conductor, pianist and teacher is a man of prodigious talent and energy who spent a lifetime promoting new music.
There's lots of Lukas Foss, but it's hard to hum a few bars. That, however, is not the point with new music. "It's nice when you're able to do that," Foss says. "But I don't know that I would call that the hallmark of great music — is that you can go home and whistle it, because if you just hum the tune, you're not really playing the music." Not playing its complexities, its fullness, rhythms, collisions, statements.
Lukas Foss has written well over 100 works and composes still. At 75, he's doing a piece for the Muir String Quartet, and he still conducts, after years as music director of orchestras in Buffalo, Brooklyn, Milwaukee, and Jerusalem.
Last year at the Hollywood Bowl, he recreated one of the marathon concerts he and Los Angeles Philharmonic manager Ernest Fleischmann inaugurated in the early '70s: six hours of solid music with no intermission. They were musical happenings that in their heyday attracted 17,000 people. The goal was to bring classical and new music to young audiences.
Click the "Listen Now" link above to hear Lukas Foss talk to Susan Stamberg about his musical career.